• Poverty of rice farmers practicing subsistence agriculture under rainfed systems in Africa
• Rice import dependence in Africa and the Middle East
The two issues above may seem irrelevant. However, if the first problem is resolved, Africa's dependence on rice import will be resolved by itself. Expanding this will also address the rice shortage in the Middle East.
Rice is the fastest growing staple food in Africa but all African countries, including Egypt, are dependent on rice imports. Yet Africa has 600 million hectares of empty farmland with enough rainfall for agriculture in the wet season.
Then why do African nations import rice?
The answer is surprisingly simple. Even though the governments encourage rice farming in the rainfed fields, most farmers don't grow rice there because they lose money. According to Rice Almanac (4th Edition 2013), the empty huge arable land belongs to rainfed fields with a yield of only one ton of rice. The price of paddy rice in West Africa is about $ 250 / ton, and the rice farming cost is about $1000 / ha. This means yields below 4 tons are a loss to farmers. In other words, rainfed rice farming with the yield of 1 ton is subsistence agriculture which can’t produce additional food for sale or trade. Thus, rainfed rice farmers are poor and subsistence farmers don't expand rice farming except for their own consumption.
Why is the yield of the rainfed rice fields so low compared to the 5 tons from irrigated rice fields?
Without water, the most populous aerobic weeds dominate the fields and the soil nutrients are washed away by the rain. Thus, rice cultivation has long been practiced under irrigation.
But, irrigated rice farming can’t be a solution to Africa.
It is almost impossible to equip irrigation facilities in African countries with large tracts of land and no money. In addition, irrigated rice farming consumes about 3 tons of fresh water to produce per kilogram of rice. With irrigation, Egypt's rice production yield is more than 9 tons per hectare. But last year the Egyptian government reduced the rice farming area due to a nation-wide lack of water.
Then, the remaining choice is simple. Let's raise the production yield of the rainfed rice fields to the level where farmers are profitable. Assuming a rice production cost of $ 1,000 per hectare and a paddy rice price of $ 250 per ton, the break-even point of rainfed rice farming should be 4 tons of paddy rice per hectare in Africa. By doing this, African rice self-sufficiency can easily be achieved by voluntary rice cultivation under rainfed fields.
Solution: Seed Film Cultivation
• Seed-Film: a seed-attached biodegradable film with germination crevices on both side of the seed
• Seed Film Cultivation: a method of cultivating crops using Seed-Film
How can we produce more than 4 tons of rice under rainfed fields that previously produced 1 ton per hectare? Growing rice in water is not because rice is an aquatic plant, but because water controls weeds and protects soil nutrient losses. Rice grows better when oxygen is supplied to its roots because RICE IS NOT AN AQUATIC PLANT. This is the scientific truth.
If biodegradable films can control weeds and protect soil nutrient losses, rice grows better outside the water than in the water. Egypt's rice yields growing in water is more than 9 tons per hectare. Using the same seeds and fertilizers as Egypt, Seed Film Cultivation outside the water can produce higher yields than Egypt because RICE IS NOT AN AQUATIC PLANT.
In the past two years of experience to prove the concept in Korea and China, our argument has proven to be true.
However, in order to avoid controversy, the production yield of Seed Film Cultivation in the rainfed rice field is expressed as 'more than 6 tons per hectare'.
• Yield per hectare using Seed Film Cultivation = 6 tons of paddy rice per hectare = 6 x $ 250 per ton of paddy rice
• Biodegradable film price per hectare = $ 500 = 2 x $ 250
• Net yields = yields per hectare - biodegradable film price = $ 1,000 = 4 tons of paddy rice
For the implementation of the Solution, the Seed-attacher and Mulcher were invented.
The Seed-Attacher attaches the seed to the biodegradable film which has germination crevices. The Mulcher then spreads out the film on dry fields and covers the film with soil. The biodegradable films and environmentally friendly adhesives are already proven technologies used in other industries. Biodegradable films control weeds, prevent soil nutrient losses, and provide a warm and humid environment for growing rice, resulting in high yields with low labor. The biodegradable film is 90% decomposed after about 180 days and completely decomposes into 100% water and carbon dioxide, leaving nothing.
Strategy for farmers to voluntarily participate in rice farming under rainfed fields: Seed Film Loan Program
How do smallholder farmers voluntarily participate in rice farming under rainfed fields?
In fact, without support, it is virtually impossible for African subsistence farmers to use the Seed-attacher and grow rice using Seed-Film. The Seed Film Loan program is devised based on the concept of microcredit to make it easy for farmers to participate in rice cultivation under rainfed fields.
A Seed-attacher can produce 2000 hectares of Seed-Film a year and must run 24 hours a day at a plant where stable electricity can be supplied. This role is a function of the Seed Film Bank. Governments, farmers' cooperatives or non-profit organizations can be the Bank.
The Bank manufactures Seed-Films, lends the films to small-scale farmers, and lets the farmers grow rice in the uncultivated arable land to produce more than 6 tons of rice per hectare. Then the farmers pay for the films with 2 tons of rice after harvest. This method is repeated and expanded continuously in a cyclic manner. In this way, farmers will make profits in rainfed fields and expand rice farming. Ultimately, the country will be self-sufficient in rice through voluntary rainfed rice farming by own farmers.
Long term Vision: Co-operation of Africa and the Middle East for Rice Self-sufficiency
The Middle East also imports 4 billion dollars of rice each year. Thus Africa and the Middle East spend about $ 10 billion each year to import 23 million tons of rice.
I recommend co-operation for rice self-sufficiency in both regions. Of course, in order for this to be possible, policy support and investment will be the keys to cooperation.
So, from a technical point of view, we have a possibility. As mentioned above, there are 600 million hectares of empty arable land in Africa. By using 1% of the empty land, both regions can be self-sufficient in rice. With a yield of 6 tons per hectare, 6 million hectares can produce 36 million tons of paddy rice, which will be at least 25 million tons of milled rice. This amount is larger than the 23 million tons of rice that the two regions are currently importing each year.
This vision is possible by combining the capital of the Middle East with the land of Africa and establishing 3,000 Seed Film Banks in Africa.